Eulogy for Sylvia Suarez, my mami

I would like to give abrazos and a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has offered their prayers, thoughts, condolences, love, and support to our family these past few weeks. Seeing my mother going through pain devastated us, and then accepting it was time to let go was so very difficult; but your friendship and companionship has truly, truly been a blessing. I wouldn’t be surprised to have gained twenty pounds after all the pan dulce and hot meals brought over to my parents’ home lately. The tears you have shed for my mother, and for us, have made it clear we are not alone.

Our mother was a passionate woman, always amazing us with how many people she knew and her friendships from all moments of her existence. She never forgot the name that went with the face, nor the stories that went with the friendship. She loved, anyone and everyone.

The past year had been difficult for her, depending on others to drive her when she was used to her independence….always de pata larga, as my father would say. O de jacalera. Our memories with mom consist of dropping by to visit an old family friend, or a relative, and remembering to pick up a box of pan dulce or donas to take with us. And if a visit wasn’t possible, there she was with her hours long phone calls to catch up on chisme.

I can’t recall having ‘peaceful’ weekends at home either. Our house was always a jumble of visita, primos and friends staying over, and overrun by the many pets that came in and out of our home. From all of us, it was mami who would be tumbling outside in the backyard and playing with the pets…como si fuera niña. Our neighborhood puppies escaping their yards and coming over for a visit with her. At one point we even had a rooster as a pet and every morning, there was mami acariciandolo.

A few days before mami had been admitted into the hospital for the last time, she posted a video on Tío Robe’s Facebook page that made her reminisce about their childhood in the 50’s and 60’s. Sometimes, they would be here at home en el valle. At others, it was up en el norte doing migrant farmwork. The song was “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” by The Hollies. (Listen to song here: https://youtu.be/EYzfTdIZoP0)

It’s easy for me to picture the De La Garza siblings growing up near Bell Street in Pharr, TX, experiencing moments such as Uncle Ram being drafted and heading off to Vietnam War, the tumultuous Pharr Riots and the chaos that affected them and other neighborhood families, going to sock hops and dancing to the latest records in their school gyms, and heading out to Montemorelos for visits with their abuelo Tomas and Toñita.

Mami’s childhood always came up in her stories, usually making us giggle, confessing things such as how she would pin the blame on whoever was nearest when she’d hurt herself out of clumsiness. Everyone running in all directions as soon as they heard her cry, out of fear they’d be blamed.

Or how Uncle Ramiro would stash candy in his sock drawer and would blame Robe when he’d discover it missing…until the day he caught his cute baby sister red-handed. Not that I’m making a case for Robe. I mean, if he was the first one they pointed the finger at, it was for a reason.

The lyrics to this song by The Hollies say:

“The road is long / with many a winding turn
that leads us to who knows where / who knows where
but I’m strong / strong enough to carry him
he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

These past few weeks, this song was a testament to what I’ve seen from many who loved her, but particularly her brothers (Robe and Ramiro) and sisters (Ninfa and Juani).

29357178_1691358477627063_7851192564537047621_nAnd then I think of my father, the love of her life. She was so grateful for all he had done for her, spoiling her, taking her to the casinitos – legal or not – when he was exhausted, going on road trips to Oklahoma, or flying out to Vegas for a few days. Being her best friend and understanding her like no one else.

According to my dad, and I know this isn’t true, the first time he saw her he thought she was my Tío Robe wearing a wig. La guera, his honey, as he called her. Ama and apa were so different, yet so alike. I can picture them at a baile, dancing to her favorite music, as mami let apa lead her with vuelta tras vuelta. A veces, her dress slip would fall after all those vueltas during a Tejano baile.

One of her favorite musicians was Jay Perez. Any time his music came out on the radio, a grito escaped her lungs. There is a song of his that goes (Listen to song here: https://youtu.be/syl4nP4ab88):

“Amor / Yo te e dado lo mejor de mi
Amor / como quiero estar cerca de ti
jamas / olvidarme de tu corazón
y volver amarte asi”.  

To me, these are the lyrics in my father’s heart. As we go on, it’ll be most difficult for us to see him growing old without his güera by his side. I ask for you to help us remind him how much he is loved and needed as he heals from this heartbreak.

My first memories are of being about four years old and living out in a ranchito in Las Milpas. Back then, it was all monte and labores for miles. We had stray dogs that would end up in our ranchito, and on one particular day, I was outside being a diva and singing a Daniela Romo song to a crowd of about twelve dogs. Before you ask, no, they weren’t barking at me!

When I was done singing, I turned and saw mami smiling at me from the entrance to the house.

She called me in for a nap and as she sang me a lullaby, I looked out the window and wondered if my mami had a mami of her own. When I asked her, she explained her own mami lived too far away and that we’d have to climb a thousand steps into heaven to visit her. At some point while sleeping, I peeked my eyes open and saw mami silently sobbing as she looked out the window.

There have been many moments like this throughout my life and though I didn’t understand them then, I do understand now that I’m an adult.

I think about how fortunate we are to have had our mother into our adulthood, thinking how she was a kid when she lost hers. We will always miss her, but she left us with enough love for a lifetime. There has not been one single day in our lives when we have not known we are loved.

One of the things we’ve learned from our parents is that love is not something that expires, and the heart has no limit. Loving someone else doesn’t take away the love you already have for another. It helped my brothers and sisters bond and learn not to live with jealousy for one another. And I really thought I understood our mother’s love. That is, until grandchildren came into her life. Her Pingüinos Marinela and Chicharrones, as she called them.

10858615_836547623096256_6294296171969953693_nI can hear her singing a melody of Sonny and Cher to Tori Bambori, “Tori don’t go / pretty baby please don’t go”; putting a Tejano song on full blast and getting all her babies to make a riot dancing, carrying Navia on one arm and turning Luisito with the other; putting Diego and Fabian to sleep with one of her silly, made up stories; letting Julian get away with anything, scolding us to “Dejenlo!” when he broke yet another thing; asking to carry her baby Sophia when she had no strength left in her arms.

406926_2614037722187_536601067_nMom’s last days were filled with memories and love. And we’d like to thank all of you for sharing your stories of mom’s sense of humor and friendships. These past few days were filled with stories about running into las tías Suarez at bailes at Bocaccios 2000 and Starship, drinking zombies…whatever that is; empapachando her nephews and nieces; stories about abuelita Carmen and Toñita; and her being an accomplice with her grandchildren in so many ways.

Mom would often remind us after our visits, “Recuerden que tienen una mala madre y un buen padre…al revés!” Always joking but reminding us my parents would be there for us, regardless of the circumstances.

And that’s what I’d like to leave you with. A reminder. Her reminder.

Don’t forget to remember those who’ve loved you. Visit them, call them, let them know they are thought of. Particularly our viejitos.

My Old Indita

Toña spooks me now and then in the middle of the night. It’s almost as if she is here. Like she never died. Like all that nonsense she told me would happen. The way she knew I would fall for it, and all the tricks she loved playing on my mind.

It’s been, uff, more years than I can remember…that last time I saw her before she passed on with her trenzas she pretended hid her secret stashes of treasure. The ones she would say kept her hair from dragging behind her on the floor.  You know, her hair she swore – y te lo juraba con palabra de Dios – had never in her entire life felt the sharpness of scissors.

And now she comes to bug me in the middle of the night knowing how that frightens me, even when I say I don’t believe in it. She likes that her stroke on my left arm can get me to praying 40, that’s right, 40 Hail Mary’s.

Pero you wouldn’t even believe me if I tell you I don’t even believe so much in the Santisima Virgen Guadalupana. I pray those 40 Hail Mary’s because my instincts tell me to respect the old Indita. Uh, the dead old Indita.

I don’t call her it in a callous way. She is dead. And old, well, that’s what she called herself. “¡Ay!, esta indita tuya. Esta india vieja.”  If she called herself that, well then, it was okay by her book. Toña didn’t seem to mind.

Her relationship to me is still mysterious. But somehow, she’s related. And somewhere along the line, she became so close to my mother’s side of the family that she became a part of them. That is how Toña the old indita ended up being my abuelita.

Her presence shaped my world. She became my never-ending book with stories I had never heard of. A breathing novel and a dancing radio of Mexican corridos. Dancing to whatever songs we requested.  Sometimes La Cucaracha, sometimes La Del Moño Colora’o.

In turn, I became her annoying know it all who asked way too many. She was a chatterbox. But I was more so a preguntona.

“But why do I have to pray so much?” I asked her once.

“¡Aiii! niña malinche. It is to prepare you for the other side. You have to be prepared.”

Maybe I didn’t understand what she was speaking of. How could I actually know what she meant, when religion was anything but a part of our family traditions?  All I knew was the other side was a scary place I wanted to be prepared for.

By morning, I was chirping ‘el gallo’ into her ear, hungry for her atole de arroz. By night she was grinding a billion prayers into my head. I could fall asleep when I couldn’t help myself any longer. But before long, there she was nudging my left arm to finish praying my 40 Hail Mary’s.

And off I went with the Santa Maria’s until it became a tongue twister I mumbled through. Possibly, I would be rewarded with a cuento once we were done with all that praying. You know, those cuentos that make a kid get soothed back to sleep. That is how I came to be a superstitious nut.

There was La Llorona, El Cucuy del Sur, Las Lechusas, and La Mano Pachona, amongst her collection of legends. You know, those myths which contradict all that praying we might’a just finished repeating over and over. Prayers to the santitos y luego leyendas de los cucuys.

She’d tell me there would never be a time when she would actually stop checking up on me. And I believed her. I believe all that even now when I am old enough to know it is almost impossible for her to come back from the dead.

But,chinelas, I don’t know. Everything I know I don’t believe gets mixed up with promises she made. And because of my superstitious side, I know that stroke on my left arm is from her. My old Indita is preparing me for something.

Maybe that other side she is in requires a ticket of prayers.

Maybe it is just my imagination.

But let’s not take a risk. If Toña is to be my never-ending book, there has to be more to death than I want to let myself imagine. There has to be an end to my old indita’s praying.

Musings and Distractions

This morning I awoke sin ganas de nada. Setting up the coffee pot as mi abuelo Eduardo would do, I started up some extra strong Nescafe on the stove. 

DELICIOUS.

My intention was to get straight to writing…but then…life. Err, to be honest, distractions.

I spent an hour staring at this computer screen and dreaming of the past. The people I love and how they have shaped me, and the many forms they’ve come in. A viejita who refuses to accept her canas, a sister who will always be my baby, a father who taught me to embrace who I am – eccentric as I may be, sobrinos who walk all over me because I don’t know how to scold them, friends who appreciate reminiscing about their upbringings, a man who broke my heart and tried to break my spirit, another who remains my best friend and showed me my worth, cousins who have caught me when I’ve fallen, strangers who have trusted me with their stories.

Searching for the moments that have shaped me, trying to stitch the memories of mi gente so I can make sense of it all.

Now Available in Print: Cuentos Wela Told Me

Now you can purchase paperback print of Cuentos Wela Told Me That Scared the Beeswax out of Me! Follow the link to purchase: Cuentos

Book Blurb: Have you experienced an eerie chill crawl your skin and give you goosebumps for no apparent reason? Have you been haunted by a ghostly apparition you can’t seem to explain? Has your abuelita told you stories about the legendary cucuys that have, for centuries, been a part of our Valley folklore? These stories are simply cuentos many are skeptical to believe in. Leyendas my family has shared with me. It is up to you to decide whether to believe in these cuentos or not. Regardless, they are intriguing and will continue to be told for generations on end. Read on, enjoy, and beware of the cucuys!

Tristes Recuerdos: My Primo Eddie

There is something about primos in my family that embraces all aspects of my life. They are my best friends. My worst enemies. My sidekicks and my lifelines. They have been the bad influences and have given me the greatest heartaches.

The idea is that we will grow old together and be tíos and tías to each other’s kids, our kids being each other’s primos. We want for them to experience the essence of belonging to a big Mexican family – or, Tex-Mex, in their case.

Our favorite memories seem to include one primo or another, and a tejano, corrido, or norteño song. For us, that has to include Ramon Ayala. Ramon has been there with us from since I can remember.

At Christmas, he’s there in the newspapers with his ever famous party and toy drives. At parties and bailes, he’s there with his Tragos Amargos and what not. Boots stomping a tipsy step, step. Hats waiving in the air. Voices belting out the tune – if not tipsy yet, drunk because of the song. He was there at my quinceañera with his verses coming from a band that played an imitation of his song. Not cheap, the emotions were all there. Maybe just not original.

Ramon Ayala is there all those times mis primos and I are together, enjoying what has been more than a friendship and a blood bond. My family, mis primos, they aren’t just my best friends. They’re keepers of my past and the backbone that’s there any time I’ve needed them.

Ramon Ayala, he has been there to witness everything, and to make it all more emotional. He was there the day Eddie died, with his Tragos Amargos. He was there the day we buried my primo, with his Un Rinconcito en el Cielo. Ramon was there all those days afterwards that we mourned his death and had only each other, primos and primas, dealing with the greatest loss we’d ever dealt with.

That is the roughest part of listening to Ramon Ayala when I tune in to his music while trying to get work done. The ambient is always there reminding me of my primo Eddie. Of his young life taken without giving us a chance say goodbye. Of all those signs that could’ve been read beforehand, the superstitious nuts we are. The mirror falling when he touched it a couple of days before he died in that horrible car accident. Him asking his mother what death was like just a few days before. Him trying to get us together one last time. It was always him. And it is him that I’ll always remember with the Tristes Recuerdos that Ramon sings.

I swear to you, that day we buried him, when the mariachis played Eddie’s favorite music – Ramon’s music – I swear to you that we all felt him there. Maybe kicking back his legs a little, stomping down his boots. With a step, step. A black hat flying in the air, chiflando and singing. His bootie shaking just a little.

And a vuelta here.

And a vuelta there.